Comeback Birds claim first gold since 1978

FREDERICTON (CIS) – The No.4-ranked University of British Columbia Thunderbirds mounted a second dramatic comeback in as many nights to capture their first Canadian Interuniversity Sport women’s volleyball title in 30 years with a 21-25, 25-21, 20-25, 28-26, 20-18 win over the No.2-Montreal Carabins, Saturday, at the University of New Brunswick’s Aitken Centre.
The Thunderbirds had settled for silver four times since claiming their fourth national banner in 1978, including gold-medal losses to Quebec opponents Laval in 2006 and Sherbrooke in 2005.
The CIS final went to a fifth and decisive set for the first time since Alberta edged Manitoba in 2000 to capture its sixth consecutive crown.
Twenty-four hours after coming back from two sets down and 6-1 in the fifth frame in their semifinal duel against defending champion and top-seeded Alberta, the T-Birds erased a two-game-to-one deficit, climbed out of a 7-3 hole in the fifth set and saved three match points before finally putting Montreal away.
The Carabins, who two weeks ago won their first QSSF championship since the 1993-94 season, were playing in the CIS final for the first time in their 10th appearance at the national tournament. Montreal’s previous best result was a trio of fourth positions, the last one in 2006.
UBC, which was making its 13th appearance in 14 years, is now 3-0 lifetime against Montreal at the Nationals. The Birds prevailed 3-1 in the 2000 bronze-medal match and 3-2 on the consolation side back in 1991.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said UBC head coach Doug Reimer, who also saw his Birds fall in the national final against Alberta in his second season at the helm, in 1999. “I can’t say enough about these girls. To put together such gutsy efforts on back-to-back nights… I’m really proud of them.”
With the final set tied at 18 all, second-team all-Canadian left side Liz Cordonier of Vancouver was stuffed twice but made good on her third kill attempt to give the Birds a third championship point of their own.
The next UBC serve gave all kinds of trouble to the Montreal defence and CIS player of the year Laetitia Tchoualack of France, forced to attack from 15 feet out, put the ball in the net to end the exciting affair.
“When two teams of this calibre meet and battle with such intensity, unfortunately even then there has to be a winner and a loser,” said Olivier Trudel, who has led the Carabins to the CIS tourney each of his four seasons as head coach. “The girl left their heart out on the court tonight.”
“We came to Fredericton hungry and the silver medal doesn’t satisfy our hunger. But we’ll be back next year for sure.”
Cordonier and fifth-year right side Jamie Broder of Victoria, wearing the UBC jersey for the last time, paced the Birds with 17 and 15 kills, respectively. Broder added a team-high 19 defensive digs.
Player-of-the-game honours for UBC went to libero Claire Hanna of Calgary, who dug up 16 balls.
Cordonier and Broder were both named to the tournament all-star team, while first-team all-Canadian setter Carla Bradstock of Richmond, B.C., also playing in her final CIS match, was chosen championship MVP following a 54-assist, 10-dig effort.
For Montreal, Tchoualack was a workhorse and was named Carabin game MVP after she finished with a tournament-high 29 kills, including seven in the lone fifth frame, on 74 attempts.
Third-year middle Nadine Alphonse of Laval, Que. was also a force with 12 kills, three service aces, three solo and five assisted blocks, while CIS libero of the year Janie Guimond of Trois-Rivieres ended her CIS career with a stellar 30-dig effort.
Tchoualack and Guimond were named to the tourney all-star team, which was completed by Calgary’s Holly Harper and Alberta Daryll Roper.
Trailing two games to one, the T-Birds needed four set points in the fourth frame to extend the contest.
Leading 23-20, UBC saw Montreal come back to tie it at 23 all, and then had chances to close the deal at 24-23, 25-24 and 26-25 but the Carabins refused to go away on each occasion. Finally, with the score 27-26 T-Birds, Bradstock and six-foot-two middle Jen Hinze of Vancouver met a Tchoualack kill attempt at the net to force a decisive game.
The fifth frame was as exciting as it gets. From 9-9 on, the set was tied on nine occasions and saw four lead changes and three championship points for each team.
The CIS women’s volleyball championship returns to UNB in 2009.